Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release 45% alc/vol

January 9, 2014


Classic dusty rye boosted by Christmas spices waves of crispy oak and fresh-cut firewood, and the vanilla caramel sweetness of new oak. Complex flavours superbly balanced dissolve in a long, hot gingery finish. Cleansing citrus pith at the tail. ★★★★★

In the years following the American Civil War, one of the most sought-after whiskies in America came from Canada. Wiser’s Distillery in Prescott, Ontario produced a range of top quality Canadian rye whiskies, the most popular of which was called Wiser’s Red Letter.

It sometimes surprises people when they learn that Canadian whisky was the best selling whisky in America in 1865, a full three generations before the U.S. introduced Prohibition. Taste this whisky and you will understand why.

The grain recipe for Wiser’s Red Letter can be found in Wiser’s old records, and master blender, Dr. Don Livermore has followed that recipe carefully. Still, this Red Letter is just marginally crisper and more full-flavoured that a 125th-anniversary version released a decade or so ago.

Yes, it is still recognizably the same whisky, and if anything, it is truer to the original. Livermore, who holds a Ph.D. in the science of whisky-wood interactions, has increased the percentage of brand-new oak barrels used in maturing Red Letter. This would also have been the case when J.P. Wiser was calling the shots. At that time new oak was plentiful and commonly used to mature premium Canadian whiskies.

Nose: Robust, with each element mild and tightly integrated into a single aroma. Toffee and slightly tangy dried orange peels precede clean oak and crisp morning air. What begins as wonderfully subtle hints of spirit turns slowly into sweet acetone. The toffee returns, this time tinged with icing sugar and sweet flowers.

Palate: Sweet caramel and hot white pepper right off the bat with fleeting bitter tannins that dissolve into orange peels. Lovely citrus notes blend with soft barley sugar and pulling oak tannins. This is very complex whisky both robust and subtle with the typical dustiness of rye grain whisky tempered by the caramels and vanillas of new oak. Flavours evolve and fade slowly into a soft, warm middle. Then it grows brisk and strongly pithy with the bitterness of dark rye bread leading into the finish. In later sips, passing chocolate-licorice (like the candy bar) appears just as you take a sip. The whisky is pleasantly hot with slight gingery tinges and hints of sweet mint leaf candy, Very complex; each sip reveals new flavours. Overall impression: sweet, hot, complex and so, so smooth going down.

Finish: Longish citrus pith that fades into crispy oak. Gingery hot.

Empty Glass: Clean fresh oak, hints of vanilla, traces of wood smoke.

Very Highly Recommended ★★★★★

$115 at LCBO

Wiser’s Red Letter 150th anniversary edition reviewed here.

Wiser’s 18 year old reviewed here.

Wiser’s Legacy introduced here.

A new Wiser’s Legacy whisky review posted here April 30, 2011 to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of J. P. Wiser.

Wiser’s Small Batch reviewed here.


34 Responses to “Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release 45% alc/vol”

  1. [...] Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release is reviewed here. [...]

  2. CBrown:

    Is there an age statement on what went into this or at least a guess?

    • Davin:

      I would guess that it is “well aged.” Probably whiskies from 7 to 10 years old, but THAT IS A GUESS. I think even the Scots are beginning to dispense with age statements because sometimes a really young whisky adds so much to a blend and they want to be able to use it that way. Remember, almost all single malts are blends and having an age statement can be a restriction on what goes into the whisky.

      • it’s aged 10 years plus in bourbon barrels and then some more in virgin casks. so – greater than 10 years. It’s pretty exciting to see some more exciting premium releases from Canada especially given the quality of new recent releases over the last two years (although I do wish this one didn’t require $115!). Also nice to have another bottling north of 40%…

        Davin you said this one was crisper and full flavoured than the last one…did you like this release better?

        • Davin:

          No, I would not say it is better, in fact the difference is marginal at best. And yes, I still have a couple of bottles of the first release.

  3. [...] Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release is reviewed here. [...]

  4. [...] Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release is reviewed here. [...]

  5. portwood:

    As a big fan of Wiser’s whiskies please explain what I’m missing with the Red Letter.
    - Lot no 40 (a significant component of wisers Legacy) is a 43% ABV, NAS with a $40 price tag
    - Legacy is 45% ABV, NAS with a $50 price tag
    - 18 years old is 40% ABV with a $68 price tag

    - Red Letter is 45% ABV, NAS with a $115 price tag.

    Is the packaging (box and decanter bottle) really worth $65 (the premium over the Legacy)? Is it age? If so, it must be considerably older than 18 or else how does it fit with the 18yo @$68.

    Mind you, I tasted it at Whisky Live Toronto and liked it but I’m struggling with the price differential over the other 3 already excellent expressions of the SAME brand.

    • Davin:

      Then I would suggest you stick with the less expensive ones. They too, are excellent. Some people want a premium and are willing to pay for it, and this is very much a limited edition. Some people also seek out small batches and are willing to pay what it takes to produce them. That said, as much as I like Legacy and Lot No. 40, this is a unique and very special Wiser’s whisky.

  6. CBrown:

    I appreciate what you’re saying on the age statement conundrum Davin but like portwood I struggle with the price point. I would feel better knowing it was a blend of say 18, 10 and 6 or whatever….

    Wiser’s is really good at playing up the old “recipe” angle and I say that with all due respect as they deliver on the product but I still remember Legacy originally coming out positioned (the only word that fits) above the 18 at a higher price based on not much more that a good story.
    When that obviously (IMHO) did not generate the expected sales they switched the two with the 18 taking the higher price point.
    Business I know but it makes me a tad cynical on the Red Letter offering value for the dollar over fancy packaging and a story.
    Good to see a couple more reviews trickling out in the latter part of the year. Not quite 2012 levels of releases but keeps things interesting.

    Thanks Davin.

    • Davin:

      Thanks. I am swamped with appearances so have less time to write reviews.

      On Red Letter, let’s just see how the market reacts. It’s about $50 less than it was last time, they’ve dropped the wooden box and they’ve made a lot fewer bottles. A Scotch of equal value would cost at least twice as much.

      Also, on the age statement. I don’t think they did this with Red lLetter, but some blenders, when they have everything just right, will add just a dash of young rye-grain whisky as top dressing to brighten up the whisky. It can really boost some of the flavours, but then the age statement is out the window.

  7. Gary:

    Davin can you comment on the effect ‘Non-Chill Filtering’
    has on this whisky? I have not seen this done with any Canadian rye whiskies I am familiar with only scotch single malts. I really like what it does for scotch.

    • Davin:

      Chill filtering removes some of the fatty acids and makes the whisky slightly less greasy. Like you, I prefer it that way. The downside is that sometimes you get a haze when the whisky is cold and some people return the whisky thinking it is not good. Returns are expensive to process so most whisky is chill filtered.

  8. M.:

    Hi Davin

    I know this question isn’t relevant to the review but I am wondering about what your opinion would be on Canada forming regional whiskies much like Scotland has. I spoke to a distiller who thinks that those kind of things can only be formed over hundreds of years, yet if we look at Tennessee Whisky, it actually legally exists as its own category and all it involves is maple charcoal!

    What are your opinions on this? Do you think it would be beneficial or make no difference to the international reputation of Canadian whisky?

    I just think that while Canadian Whisky is widely consumed in the US mostly in mixed drinks, the image needs a shakeup. I visited a Whisky bar in Manhattan in 2012 that had an AMAZING selection of just about everything but Canadian whisky (they had forty creek – the normal barrel select, alberta premium and canadian club…), the same thing I saw at CASK SPIRITS in San Francisco who had even had more Japanese single malts than Canadian.

    Which to me says that not a lot of people know the full potential of Canadian whisky.

    Anyway, my apologies for being long-winded, I just think that perhaps Canadian whisky could get more of an international face or gain more curiosity if it was known to be more than just “Canadian Whisky”.

    Of course defining Whiskies regionally would require distillers to agree upon a unique feature to incorporate.

    • Davin:

      A good idea, but Canada and Scotland are very different from each other. I think it would be difficult because we don’t really have natural regions. All of Scotland with about 100 distilleries would fit into Alberta. In Alberta we have three distilleries and each one is very much different from the other two. Gimli, in Manitoba works with Valleyfield in Quebec, while Canadian Mist produces almost entirely for the US market. The equipment in the Scottish distilleries is quite similar among them, but in Canada each distillery is unique.

      I also am not a big fan of legal requirements or regulations. I know people point to them as marks of quality but the reality is that laws and regulations are made by politicians and bureaucrats, not whisky makers, and they almost always are the result of effective lobbying by the strong, and tend to stifle innovation.

      The good news is that Canadian whisky is really on an upswing now as more and more people come to know and appreciate the top quality whiskies.

      • M.:

        Thanks for the response Davin, glad to hear your thoughts.

        I was browsing The Drinks Shop while looking for a gift for someone that is in the UK. Again… very small selection of Canadian distillates there. I hope more people realize the depth and variety that is actually out there in the future especially with places like Shelter Point just on the horizon.

      • M.:

        Also I must ask… have you tried Schramm’s new whisky yet?

        • Davin:

          No, not yet.

  9. Yello to Mello:

    Nice discussion. Good luck in your appearances Davin…I missed you the last few times you were in Toronto.

    Wisers price is what it is. I can understand the consumers perspective, even with single malts the age statements are phasing out under 18 years. Nevertheless with quality and premium pricing the consumer looks for more transparency, much beyond the craft story marketing. Of course the common argument is age isnt always a sign of quality but when it comes to costs its still a pretty good one. In this case the limited availability might be enough to justify the price, as long as its not fabricated like Ardbeg releases.

  10. Omineca Greg!:

    Hey Davin!

    I’m really enjoying my bottle. It costs $99 here in B.C.

    I like the hard rye flavour, there’s no mistaking what the prominent grain is…it reminds me of the dense European style rye breads, and the ginger with the tiniest hint citrus makes for a complicated taste profile. If you put just the thinnest touch of ginger marmalade on a thick piece of toasted rye bread, it tastes like this. I don’t really taste the wood very much yet, but happily I have a lot of the bottle left to contemplate.

    Also, the alcohol heat is very agreeable. It’s a very difficult thing to get balanced just right, either it can be too mild and tend to blandness, or too fiery, making it too much of a challenge, but here they have it just perfect. I can tell I’m drinking booze, but at the same time I’m very happy about it!

    I don’t mind the price at all. If it were my regular tipple, well then yeah, it would begin to add up, but for a special occasion, “Heard about this, would love to check it out” kind of thing it isn’t much at all. That being said, you can get outstanding Canadian whisky for less than $30 (yes! that’s the kind I normally buy!) so I can understand why there’s some sticker shock going around.

    Next stop, the 20 year old CC. I’m making out like a bandit over here!

  11. [...] Gift Idea #1- Wiser’s Red Letter Canadian Whisky available at your local liquor store this premium whisky has notes of Christmas spices, crisp oak and fresh-cut firewood. It has a vanilla caramel sweetness and citrus pith at the tail. For a complete review visit CanadianWhisky.org. [...]

  12. Greg:


    I love the Legacy and don’t ever see myself not having a bottle on my shelf. On the other hand I’m not crazy about the 18 Year Old and likely won’t be buying another bottle once my current one is gone.

    I think I just tend to like more in your face flavors over subtle ones. I generally will take a Bourbon over a Scotch for instance.

    Do you think the Red Letter would be a wise purchase for someone with my taste buds? Or would I be better off with something like Mastersons which I’m also considering buying.

    • Davin:

      Red Letter is a lot more “in-your-face” flavourful than Wiser’s 18. Strictly based on flavour I would rate Red Letter a few points higher than Legacy, but both are really great whiskies. Like you, I always have an open bottle of Legacy on my shelf and I go through a lot of it.

      • Greg:

        Thanks Davin. I’ll have to grab a bottle and let you know what I think about it when I eventually open it.

    • Bob Caron:

      Legacy was the first top shelf Canadian whisky I tried and thought it couldn’t get much better than that. I eventually got some 18 year old and was a bit disappointed. I didn’t think it lived up to the flavor of the Legacy. Then I got real lucky to have a blind sample of Red Letter sent to me. The bar had just been reset and when I found out what it was, I had to get at least two full bottles of it. It’s a bit pricey but worth it. I have cousins in Quebec and they ordered some for me. $100.00 at Quebec’s SAQ stores, a little less than what they sell it for in Ontario’s LCBO.

  13. David:

    I never tried the first batch of Wiser’s Red Letter, but the 2013 iteration gets my vote as the best Canadian Whisky ever. All the excitement of the best Forty Creek special releases and the depth of character of the Alberta Premium 25 and 30 Year olds in a totally balanced package. A really spectacular whisky. It’s a shame it won’t see wider distribution as I believe it would go a long way to putting to rest the perception of Canadian whisky as the bland step child of American bourbon and rye.

  14. Jason:

    I recently purchased the Wiser’s Red letter and am wondering what suggestions you have for trying it with cheese. Look forward to your response

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  16. Bob Caron:

    Doing some blending experiments tonight to see if I can make something close to Red Letter. One part Crown Royal XR Waterloo and two parts Wiser’s Legacy does a pretty good job of it.

  17. Peter:

    My birthday present to myself. Fantastic choice I made. How is 45% ABV so smooth. This is smoother than Cask 16 and at a higher ABV. I am very happy with the evolution of Canadian Whiskey, Lot 40, Pike Creek, anything from Highwood distilleries. Exciting times.

  18. Davin:

    “I am very happy with the evolution of Canadian Whiskey.” Me too! What a great year and there’s more to come.

  19. Daryl:

    A friend of mine appears to have bought the last bottle of Red Letter in BC.
    Trying to find another one for me now.

  20. Bob Caron:

    I made a Canadien Whisky Blend so scandalously close to Wiser’s Red Letter, I have to call it Bob’s Scarlet Letter. It involves another Canadien blend I made with 3 parts Pike creek/3 parts Canadian Club Classic 12 yo/4 parts Crown Royal Reserve. Take 1 part of that blend and 8 parts of the new Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel for New Hampshire and 1 part distilled water. It even comes in at 45% ABV like the Red Letter. I’ve never made a vatting for regular use where I added water but this is perfect.

    • Bob Caron:

      I ended up tweaking the recipe just a bit. In a 750 ml batch, I added 15 ml of Bunnahabhain 12 yo. It adds a touch of the burnt rubber note that I found intriguing in the Red Letter.

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